Inverness to offer free parking incentive for shoppers

Inverness is poised for a parking revolution – including extra bays and free drop-off spaces in some of the busiest city streets.

Under the proposals, parking would be free for 15-minute periods in some pay and display spaces during a year-long trial designed to boost trade.

Retailers last night celebrated the prospect of making life simpler for customers, and the idea will now be considered by councillors on Thursday.

It is the brainchild of the Inverness business improvement district (Bid) initiative and aims “to allow drivers to nip into businesses for ‘click and collect’ activity.”

Officials have recommended approval of the plan, although the Inverness City Committee must consider the £100 cost of adapting 17 ticket machines.

The idea has been widely hailed a success after being implemented in Perth, despite abuse of the system being reported, with some motorists repeatedly refreshing their free-time ticket.

A possible solution, to be considered by Inverness councillors, is a system that demands drivers input their registration number.

However, that technology would mean replacing the 17 existing pay machines – at a total cost of £85,000.

Traders and shoppers yesterday warmed to the prospect of a 15-minute window.

Castle Street-based kilt maker Duncan Chisholm said: “If we want the city centre to thrive we must make it as easy as possible for the public to shop here.

“It only takes a few minutes to collect or drop off Highland dress hired for a function.

“The need to find suitable parking can take a considerable slice out of customers’ busy schedules.”

David Richardson of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The 15-minute proposal is one small step that should help make the city centre busier and the whole experience more enjoyable.”

The Inverness Bid group has a broader wish-list, including extra parking spaces in Millburn Road; to convert a loading bay to pay and display in Upper Strothers Lane; to remove the taxi rank and reduce loading bay space in Church Street; convert loading bay spaces to pay and display on Academy Street and add more bays for motorcycles in Castle Street.

The changes would add a total of 25 pay and display bays in the city.

Council officials have recommended approval of the plans for Millburn Road, Upper Strothers Lane, Church Street and Castle Street, adding a total of 17 extra bays.

If backed, they would be £1 short-stay bays and generate an estimated £50,000 per year – and cost the council £25,000 to install the necessary machines.

Council traffic and parking officer Shane Manning acknowledges in his report to the committee that it would result in less loading space.

He concedes that “any increase in vehicles would impact on environmental pressures and congestion within the city centre.”

Bid manager Mike Smith said: “It’s important we give a positive message to people looking to come here. Increasing pay and display provision is part of that.”

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart said: “Shoppers are aware that small city centre businesses are struggling. If the 15-minute scheme goes ahead it should help stimulate the local economy.

“However, I’d be worried if it led to more congestion and increased environmental pressures.”